The 1916 film “The Dumb Girl of Portici” is a landmark piece of cinema crafted by one of the first successful female filmmakers, and will be shown on Friday afternoon at the Athena Cinema. (

Landmark 1916 Piece of Women’s Cinema to be Screened Friday

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The Dumb Girl of Portici is a previously unseen film long overdue for recognition as one of Lois Weber’s (one of the first successful female filmmakers) finest creations and a landmark in women’s cinema. The production was one of Universal’s most expensive to date and featured an enormous cast, many large-scale sets, and an ambitious story. It was the first blockbuster ever directed by a woman — and arguably the only epic shot by a woman in the 20th century.

In the early 20th century, no woman had greater worldwide fame than ballet dancer and choreographer Anna Pavlova. Unlike movie actresses, whose celebrity spread with the international distribution of their films, Pavlova’s renown had to be earned theater by theater, performance by performance. Her legendary art was, by its nature, ephemeral. Still, no one traveled farther or worked harder than this slight daughter of a Russian laundress.

Acting as star, choreographer, producer, and boss of a large dance company constantly touring the globe, Pavlova was a consummate artist and a canny businesswoman. A generation marveled and cherished the memory of her scintillating brilliance on stage. The restoration of The Dumb Girl of Portici — with the dazzling new score by dance and silent film composer John Sweeney — will give today’s audiences a chance to experience the energy, the expressive face, and the grace of the great Pavlova.

An introduction to the film will be provided by Amy Heller and Dennis Doros, co-founders of Milestone Films. Amy and Dennis will discuss the restoration and amazing career of one of the earliest women filmmakers. The film will be screened at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, at the Athena Cinema, and is free and open to the public. The event is sponsored by Arts for Ohio and the Ohio University Film Division.